It’s a chilly evening when the biggest hall of the Arena receives one of the most important Canadian acts of the last decades. However, even from the beginning it is evident that neither the weather nor any kind of unforeseen circumstances are going to stop the crowd from enjoying the beautiful acoustic landscapes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
‘Is this your first time seeing the band?’, one attendee asks the other, who nods in assent. ‘This will be my fourth. Last time I saw them in Prague’, rebukes the first and one can almost hear the you’re-so-not-ready-for-this in his excited tone. After all, the band is well-known for their impressive live performances which are less concerned with sticking to the strict structure of a song and more with creating interesting atmospheres around the melodies that the audience already knows and cherishes.
A row of vintage projectors and an army of strings
After an unexpected opening act, there come Godspeed You! Black Emperor, equipped with two drum sets, a double bass, a violin and virtually an army of guitars and bass guitars. The band wastes no time on empty pleasantries, ever-ready to give an immersive performance to their impatient audience.
From the beginning, it’s plain to see that these are no amateurs, rather than a troupe of highly experienced musicians, capable of captivating a room filled with people of all ages throughout the entirety of a twelve-minutes-long song. It is hard not to get lost in the movement of the bow over the double bass, in the hypnotic images that are conjured by a set of four old-school projectors, carefully arranged and operated so that they can broadcast sometimes natural and urban iconography, sometimes more abstract representations.
During the first songs, the attendees seem shy, almost holding their breath as they sway slowly in time with the music. It’s a tad like attending a chamber music recital, in which people oftentimes hold back from emotional outbursts in fear of breaking some unspoken spell. Nevertheless, this crowd is not shy with its applause and they give their all in-between songs, cheering and encouraging the band in any physical way they can.
If one thing is true, it’s that words can’t do justice to the experience of seeing GY!BE live. It’s almost the opposite to being high; it’s being very present, letting the music engulf us and losing ourselves in it, becoming only emotions.
There is almost not a chance for respite between songs, as we are mercilessly guided through the vibrating, all-encompassing atmosphere of “Fam/Famine”. During the relentless “Cliff”, the audience is bombarded with images of chaos and revolt, as the music unfolds to an almost martial beat.
By the time “Mladic” plays, all restraint has been forgotten. The attendees dance, jump, lift their hands into the air in an appropriate reference to one of the band’s most famous releases, as the catharsis is being fulfilled. And this is when we realise: this is our postmodern chamber music, and these are our postmodern orchestras. And we, as a part of Baumann’s liquid society, must experience them live to understand them in full.